Dear Michael Chabon,


 Thank you for liberating my inner Jew! A few years ago I experienced an adult bat mitzvah and moved to Washington State. These two experiences, a belated reunion with my Jewish roots and a Diaspora-worthy sense of dislocation, inspired me to write something different from the comic cozies featuring a menopausal protagonist that I wrote in New Jersey. I’d write the Great Northwest Feminist Jewish Mystery, a herstorical whodunit. I was well into this project when I discovered that you’d already written it: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

 Giving rein to professional jealousy over your novel’s deliciously high concept would be silly. I love the image of Sitka, Alaska as The Promised Land and the way you recreate Yiddishkeit there. How clever is that? And loathing you for your ability to write perfect dialogue or for your superior knowledge of all things Jewish is not in my moral make-up. I’m not the petty sort who would despise you for describing people, including a possible Messiah and your protagonist Meyer Landsman, so vividly that I reread some passages several times just to savor your artfully arranged sequences of telling details. What reader could resist Meyer who “has the memory of a convict, the balls of a fireman, and the eyesight of a housebreaker”?  Nor do I hold it against you that your story made me laugh and cry which, at my age, is a risky business. And who am I to resent a man for twisting the testosterone-tinged formula of the noir into a tale in which a woman saves the day and the “hero” is happy about it? Not my style.

 Instead, I took the high road and used your fabulous book to keep me from being discouraged when members of my writing group complained about the occasional Yiddishisms in my manuscript or when my own inner voice, a one-woman chorus of self-doubt, chimed in: “No one will publish this, Jane. It’s too Jewish. It’s not Jewish enough. It’s too commercial. It’s not commercial enough. There’s not enough sex and violence. There’s too much sex and violence. It’s not like your other books. . . .”

            The Yiddish Policemen’s Union offered me a timely perspective on Jews as outsiders and on the significance and nature of a Jewish homeland presented in the highly palatable form of a really good mystery. You make the many dreads of the Diaspora accessible to younger Jews and non-Jews alike, no small feat. I’m also grateful to you for using your Pulitzer- enhanced prestige and overdose of storytelling talent to legitimize mysteries in the minds of those who insist crime fiction is not “literary.” The Yiddish Policemen’s Union disproves that notion. I forgive you for writing it. Thank you and mazel tov


Jane Isenberg



Filed under feminist fiction, Humorous fiction, Immigrant story, Jewish fiction, mystery

3 responses to “Dear Michael Chabon,

  1. As usual Jane, you pack your blog with insights into authors’ works while at the same time adding your own uniquely humorous take on how they have influenced you. Thanks for the chuckles and mazel tov!

  2. Jane, I’m happy that you decided to overrule that “one-woman chorus of self-doubt.” I so enjoy these thank-you letters, and your personality shining through them.

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